We are living in a time of great turbulence and anxiety. The coronavirus pandemic has stirred panic. As Christians, part of our lifelong discipleship is seeking to allow faith to overcome our fears.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” asked Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-34).
The Latin word from which we derive “anxiety” means “to choke.” The Anglo-Saxon root for “worry” means “to strangle.” And that’s what worry does. It chokes the life out of us. It suffocates our spirits. It strangles our ability to make good decisions.
Jesus asks: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” The obvious answer is: None of us can extend our lives by worrying. Not for an hour. Not for a minute. Not for a second. In fact, research tells us just the opposite. Physically, anxiety can lead to hypertension, heart attacks, and a compromised immunological system. Emotionally, it can make you irritable and unstable.
We think we worry because of external circumstances. But that’s not true. You can put two people in identically bad situations, and one will worry and one will not. That’s because worry is determined more by our internal condition than our external condition.
If there is little faith within us, the smallest concerns will fill our hearts with great anxiety. But if we take hold of faith – and let faith take hold of us – there will be little room for fear within us. Jesus provides a prescription for letting go of worry.
First, he tells us to have faith in God’s character. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26). If God can meet the needs of the birds who have to go out and find food every day, certainly he can provide for us who have the ability to work, and save, and plan.
Do you believe God knows you, loves you, is aware of all your needs, and will provide for you? Not everybody does. I remember praying with an elderly man many years ago who was suffering with cancer. He had lost his wife and he felt alone and he was hurting. I asked him if he knew that God loved him. I’ll never forget his answer. He said: “It feels like God doesn’t even know my name anymore.”
There will be many times in our lives when it will feel as if God does not care about us and that he’s not working for our good. And we must decide: Will I trust my feelings or will I trust my God? Will I trust that God is a good, wise, powerful, and loving heavenly Father who knows what I need?
“God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken,” it has been said. “When we cannot trace his hand, we can always trust his heart.”
I know it’s a frightening time for some of us. Life is uncertain and full of peril. It always has been and it always will be. What’s not uncertain is the character of God. He is our heavenly Father, he knows us, he loves us, he is powerful and wise and he will provide for us.
Second, have faith in God’s promises. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” said Jesus (Matthew 6:33, ESV).
When we face difficult times, we turn to something. We look for something to trust in and to stand on. Some of us look to our finances. As long as they’re strong, we’re confident and we feel like we can handle whatever the world throws at us. Some of us trust our wisdom and our intellect. Some of us turn to our resourcefulness. Whatever we trust in, one day we will find it insufficient.
When your wife is diagnosed with cancer, when your child is addicted to drugs, when a friend betrays you, when your heart is broken, you are going to find that you need a strength that is greater than what you possess or this world can provide. And you will need to trust in the promises of God: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil” and “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When you’re anxious and afraid, the strength you need will not come from having all the right answers, but from having faith in the promises of God that he will be with you and provide for you all that you need.
Third, have faith that with God’s help you can overcome. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Loss of a loved one, a divorce, getting laid off, illness, financial set backs – nobody wants any of these things. All of them are difficult and painful and give us all kinds of reasons to be anxious and worry. But through faith in Christ, you can do what you need to do to overcome.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” said Jesus. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
You can’t be anxious about the future and live a full, joyful, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled life in the present. You can live worried about tomorrow or you can live powerfully today – but you can’t do both. “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows,” said Charles Spurgeon, “but only empties today of its strength.” God has promised to give you everything you need for today. Don’t give that strength away by worrying about something that may never happen tomorrow.
Instead, offer a prayer that opens yourself to God’s presence and strength. Or, help someone who’s struggling. Listen to praise music and read Scripture. Before you get out of bed in the morning, count your blessings and declare, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Stop looking at your portfolio every day. It’s bad – and it’s going to be that way for a while. Stop addictively watching the news. You can stop accepting the anxiety of the people around you. Just because they’re worried, you don’t have to be. There is something worse than getting sick. That’s living afraid.
But fear is not the mark of the Christian. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline,” writes Paul (2 Timothy 1:7). Christian living is walking in power, love, and the self-discipline to do what we can do today and to leave the rest to God.
Has worry ever solved a problem? Has worry every created a solution or given birth to strength or brought God’s power to a desperate situation?
People who are free from burdensome worry are people who make decisions and act. They determine what they can do and they do it. And then they live their life holding on to faith in the character of God, in his promises, and in the belief that with God’s help they can and they will overcome.